You could see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices, feel it in their hands. This one was different.
Their eyes welled this time. Their voices cracked. Their handshakes gripped like pliers.
Virginia Tech's Hokies won their second consecutive ACC football championship Saturday. Again their prey was Boston College. Again their quarterback earned MVP hardware. Again their defense scored the final touchdown.
But the similarity ends there.
"Oh, are you kidding?" offensive-line coach Curt Newsome said on the field, moments after the 30-12 dismantling concluded. "Last year it was expected. This year? This team? This was hard."
Don't misunderstand. Last season was not easy. Tech had to overcome a pretty fair quarterback, Matt Ryan, who was last seen crafting his NFL rookie-of-the-year acceptance speech.
But the 2007 Hokies, teeming with NFL prospects, clearly were the class of the ACC. They dusted BC in the title game, with Sean Glennon winning MVP.
These Hokies never looked the part.
Until Tyrod Taylor created two touchdowns, the offensive line forged holes for Darren Evans and the defense bullied a freshman quarterback.
"Who'd have thought this after East Carolina?" outside linebackers coach Jim Cavanaugh said as he and defensive coordinator Bud Foster embraced on the field.
After the opening loss to East Carolina. After a 1-3 stretch later in the season that left Tech groveling for help just to win the Coastal Division. Heck, even after the victory over last-place Duke two weeks ago in which the Hokies managed one offensive touchdown.
"I never doubted the team," cornerback Macho Harris said. "I never doubted the coaches."
Easy to say now. But surely there were doubts — about the offense, about the kicking game, about fate.
Never about the defense.
Truth be told, Boston College lost this game two weeks ago when starting quarterback Chris Crane sustained a broken collarbone at Wake Forest, leaving the position to Dominique Davis. A redshirt freshman, Davis performed admirably in last week's victory over Maryland.
But that game was at home. And it was most certainly not against Foster's defense.
A rookie quarterback making his second start? Against a Foster defense in a championship game? Absent Secret Service protection and Jerry Rice at wideout, the kid had no chance.
Foster moved safeties Kam Chancellor and Dorian Porch closer to the line of scrimmage, suffocated the Eagles' running attack and dared Davis to throw.
"He's got a live arm," Foster said. "A little wild right now. It kind of showed today."
Hey, you'd be wild and skittish, too, with Jason Worilds and Orion Martin and Purnell Sturdivant in your face on virtually every pass. Davis misfired on 26 of 43 attempts, 23 of 33 after halftime.
Most damaging, Tech sacked him five times, intercepted him twice and turned one of the sacks into a fumble that Martin returned for the final touchdown.
"Coach Foster, man," Harris said. "That's all I'm gonna say. Coach Foster."
The defense had plenty of cushion because tailback Evans bored his way to 114 yards on 31 punishing carries, and quarterback Taylor improvised two touchdown runs on third downs near the goal line.
Taylor's stats — 30 yards rushing and 84 passing — didn't scream MVP, but he did what no Tech offensive player did in a 28-23 regular-season loss at Boston College: He scored touchdowns.
Both were called passes. Both saw Taylor elude the rush and find the end zone, the second time despite a crackling tackle by safety Wes Davis.
So now it's off to the Orange Bowl and a likely encounter with Big East champion Cincinnati. The Hokies flat-lined in last season's Orange Bowl loss to Kansas, and to his credit Saturday, Beamer immediately looked ahead to Jan. 1 in Miami.
"We are going to enjoy (the championship) because this is really special," Beamer said, unprompted. "But we are going to go right back to work and concentrate and get ourselves ready to go down to the Orange Bowl and play a great football game. …
"The thing I've learned and these guys have learned, those (bowl defeats) stay with you a little while. Alumni don't forget those things real quick. But we didn't either."
Maybe the Orange Bowl will attract more than the approximately 25,000 folks who attended Saturday. Maybe, given the economy and uninspiring matchup, it won't.
The Hokies will be fine either way. They have discovered an energy that doesn't require a roaring crowd.
You could see it in Saturday's celebration. Last year's felt reserved. This felt unbridled.
"I love you," Newsome said to offensive tackle Ed Wang during the trophy presentation.
His long hair matted with sweat, his white uniform green with stains, Wang responded.
"I love you, too, Coach."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.